What if, instead of trying to educate consumers, we start educating ourselves about what our consumers want?


Fallout from Grammy Speech Shows P2P Is Here to Stay
"Some smug guy with a goatee is lecturing America on the evils of downloading music from the Internet," wrote ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons in his much-circulated Grammy diary. "It's going over like a fart in church."

There you have it: the vox populi, and you didn’t have to decipher it from the illiterate diatribes choking every Grammy-related chat room in the land. Michael Greene’s sermon, with its confusions of fact (Mike, "ripping" doesn’t mean downloading) and unproven assumptions (how could we possibly know how much illicit CD-copying and unauthorized file-sharing are really costing the biz?), was the ultimate trial balloon for the idea of "educating consumers" about proper behavior with respect to the circulation of music.

Guess what, folks? The balloon is made of lead.

Even the "artists must be paid" argument is seriously dampened by public spats over royalties between acts and labels. And I won’t even go into the burgeoning controversy surrounding the disingenuous use of young recruits to download vast numbers of files (many of them apparently obtained using AOL Instant Messenger—can we talk "substantial non-infringing uses"?).

But before you kill the messenger, I ask you to consider the following.

P2P services, despite litigation, lectures, "legal" options, et al., are growing astronomically. Rail all you want, but music fans are excited by this way of obtaining music. It is unlikely to be sued, legislated or reformed out of existence.

So I pose the question once again: How do you make money from it? Is it time to revisit the idea of a combination compulsory license/blank media tax? It’s logistically feasible, since there now exist plenty of firms capable of accurately measuring what music gets traded and how often.

If releasing control of this corner could turn file-swapping into a revenue source rather than an ongoing drain of legal fees and PR credibility, perhaps we could focus on how to use the sampling capabilities and cost-free "superdistribution" afforded by P2P to ramp up sales of CDs, concert tickets and merch, not to mention licensing opportunities.

What if, instead of trying to educate consumers, we start educating ourselves about what our consumers want?